How to Properly Ask a Teacher for a Letter of Recommendation

Sunday, December 31, 2023
How To Ask A Teacher For Letter Of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are almost always a necessary part of the college application process. Sometimes, you’ll need a letter of recommendation even to apply for a scholarship or other opportunity. Since these letters are so important to your future, you'll want to understand how to ask a teacher for a letter of recommendation.

Asking a teacher or professor for a letter of recommendation can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are generally shy or don’t speak with your teachers one-on-one very often. But remember that they are asked this all the time, and are usually happy to do so! 

If you're preparing to ask for a letter of recommendation, keep these tips from NSHSS in mind. 


Choose the right teacher(s)

Depending on the kind of letter of recommendation you want, you’ll need to ask the appropriate teacher. Generally, you’ll want to choose a teacher who knows you well, has a positive opinion of you, and can highlight your strengths. 

If possible, the teacher you choose should match the message you want to send in your application. They will have observed qualities about you that you may have overlooked or never fully considered in your application. For example, if you’re applying to major in the sciences, you might choose your biology teacher who you’ve assisted for a year.

There are some instances where asking a teacher who can offer a new perspective that isn’t already in your application can help just as much. For instance, if you’ve volunteered for an organization or extracurricular activity that doesn’t show up in your application much, perhaps asking the supervising teacher to write you a letter of recommendation will help highlight that aspect of your personality and skill.

If you ask more than one teacher, try to ask teachers who will provide different perspectives to highlight varying strengths that you have as a student.

Whatever aspect of yourself that you want to highlight, choose a teacher who knows about that aspect and will write well on the subject. If you don’t speak often with any of your teachers, it might help to establish a relationship by visiting office hours first. Oftentimes, teachers are excited to get to know new students and are encouraged when asked to lend a hand in the students future. Their excitement over your asking might show itself in the letter they write.

Ask early

No matter which teacher you ask, make sure you plan to ask them well ahead of the deadline. Teachers are busy, and sometimes the process requires them to send in the letter for approval or to mail the letter, in which case you’ll need extra time.

If you approach a teacher and tell them you need a letter of recommendation in the next week, that teacher likely won’t have much time to write you the kind of letter you want. And the last minute request might reflect poorly on you as a student. Make sure to be respectful of your teacher’s time and the effort it takes to write a great letter of recommendation.

You should also assume this teacher is already writing a few letters of recommendation, especially closer to college application season. If you can ask well in advance, you’ll get a much better result. And never assume they remember the details of each letter - offer them reminder emails and information as much as you can. 

Approach your educator individually during an appropriate time

Ask in person

Though it might be tempting to ask your teacher to write a letter of recommendation for you over email, asking in person is much more respectful and will give you the chance to connect with the teacher more personally. It can also show your teacher that you have courage, especially if they are not used to speaking with you in person.

Your teacher will likely be more willing and excited to write a letter of recommendation for you when you approach respectfully in person rather than impersonally in an email.

If you are asking a past teacher who you cannot ask in person, consider emailing and asking if you can speak with them on the phone or on video chat. Put the ball in their court and meet them how they would prefer. Being flexible in your request will help exemplify the respect you have for them.

Approach individually during an appropriate time

When you do approach a teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure that you approach them alone, rather than asking in a group of other students. Teachers might feel overwhelmed if more than one student is asking for a letter, and you’ll be less likely to get their undivided attention.

In addition, always approach during office hours or another time when a teacher seems to have free time to speak with students. Hopefully, your teacher has given you an idea of when is appropriate to approach them, so respect their time and space accordingly. Do not assume that a teacher will stop what they are doing and listen, they’re as busy as you are!

Provide all necessary information

Depending on the application, you might have a list of requirements for any letter of recommendation sent to the institution in question. In that case, make sure that you give your teacher all the information they need to write and send the letter. One way to do this is by forwarding them an email with the requirements listed out so they have something to refer back to during their writing process.

Be up front about the institution to which you are applying and what they’re looking for, and answer any questions your teacher may have about the formatting and process. You should also include information about yourself that the teacher may not know, like extracurricular activities you are in or what you want to major in. 

More than likely your teacher will become more enthusiastic about the letter you’re asking them to write if they know the specifics of the program you are applying to. That enthusiasm will reveal itself in the letter, because the teacher will feel that they too are a part of your future.

Some teachers have a questionnaire they like students to fill out or want to ask you questions about what you expect from the letter. Some do not want you to read the letter, and some might want feedback. Whatever the process they prefer, make sure you follow it in a timely fashion.

Handle any mail-in duties or purchases

If your teacher needs to mail in your letter of recommendation to a certain office, make sure you provide an addressed envelope with a stamp. Offer to help with any part of the process to make it as easy as possible on the teacher.

Feel free to let them know during your first meeting that you will handle this part of the process. Teachers will see the maturity in this and respond kindly to it.

If you do need to handle the letter, be sure you respect the applications rules, which likely will say you cannot open or view it.

Follow up or send a reminder

Once you’ve asked for the letter and given all necessary information, including the deadline, make sure to follow up with your teacher or send them a reminder. Don’t expect your teacher to keep track of deadlines.

Consider the letter your responsibility and make sure you help your teacher succeed in getting the letter in on time. 

Deliver a thank you!

Once the letter of recommendation has been sent, make sure to thank your teacher for their time and work! You can thank them in person, write out a thank-you note, or even get them a small gift as a thanks.

This is especially important because you want to show gratitude for their effort on your behalf and also keep the option open for any further letters in the future. However, as a rule, it’s best not to ask the same teacher for two letters.

As a thank you, make sure to return any favors your teacher might need from you, whether that’s an evaluation, a letter for them, or help in the classroom.

It might all seem daunting at first, but taken step-by-step, this is a much simpler and streamlined process for such an otherwise daunting responsibility. If all these steps are followed, you are more likely to have a positive experience in sending in your letter of recommendation, and this prepared thoroughness will be reflected in the letter!